It was so long since he had known a friend on those intimate terms under which it makes no especial difference what is said, since even in silence the understanding is perfect, and the pleasure of talking depends chiefly on the exchange of the signs of complete mutual comprehension, that the old days appealed to him with wonderful power. There is an immeasurable and soothing restfulness in such intercourse, especially to a man like Fenton, in whom exists an inner necessity always to say something when he talks; and as he recalled them now, something almost a sob rose in Arthur's throat. Many men suppose themselves to be cultivating their intellect when they are only, by the gratification of their tastes, quickening their susceptibilities; and Fenton's whole self-indulged existence had resulted chiefly in rendering him more sensitive to the discomforts of a universe in the making of which other things had been considered besides his pleasure.
He looked across the breakfast table at his wife. He noted with appreciation the beautiful line of her cheek outlined against the dark leather of the wall behind her. He felt a twinge of remorse for coming so far short of her ideal of him. He knew how resolutely she refused to see his worst side, and he reflected with philosophy half bitter and half contemptuous, that no woman ever lived who could wholly outgrow the feeling that to believe or to disbelieve a thing must in some occult way affect its truth. At least she had fulfilled all the unspoken promises, so much more important than vows put into words could be, with which she had married him. A remorseful feeling came over his mind, and instantly followed the instinctive self-excuse that she could never suffer as keenly as he suffered, no matter how greatly he disappointed her.
"People are to be envied or pitied," he said aloud, "not for their circumstances, but for their temperaments."
Edith looked up inquiringly. He went round to where she was sitting, smiling to think how far she must be from divining his thought.
"I stayed at the club too late last night," he said, stooping to kiss her smooth white forehead in an unenthusiastic, habitual way which always stung her. "Some of the fellows insisted upon my playing poker, and I got so excited that I didn't sleep when I did get to bed."
Edith sighed, but she made no useless remonstrances.
Walking down to his studio, carefully dressed, faultlessly booted and gloved, and, as Tom Bently was accustomed to say, "too confoundedly well groomed for an artist," Fenton tried in vain to determine how he should manage the important conversation with Mr. Hubbard. He had racked his brains in the night in vain attempts to solve this problem, but in the end he was forced to leave everything for chance or circumstances to decide.
When Stewart Hubbard sat before him, Fenton was conscious of a tingling excitement in every vein, but outwardly he was only the more calm. A close observer might have noticed a nervous quickness in his movements, and a certain shrillness in his voice, but the sitter gave no heed to these tokens, which he would have regarded as of no importance had he seen them. The talk was at first rather rambling, and was not kept up with much briskness on either side. Fenton, indeed, was so absorbed in the task which lay before him that he hardly followed the other's remarks, and he suddenly became aware that he had lost the thread of conversation altogether, so that he could not possibly imagine what the connection was when Hubbard observed,—
"Yes, it is certainly the hardest thing in the world for one being to comprehend another."
Fenton rallied his wits quickly, and retorted with no apparent hesitation,—
"It is so. Probably a cat couldn't possibly understand how a human mother can properly bring up a child when she has no tail for her offspring to play with."
"That wasn't exactly what I meant," the other returned, laughing; "but what a fellow you are to give an unexpected turn to things."
"Do you think so?" the artist said. Then, with a painful feeling of tightness about the throat, and a soberness of tone which he could not prevent, he added,—"That is a reason why I have always felt that I was one of those comparatively rare persons whom wealth would adorn, if somebody would only show me an investment to get rich on."
"You are one of those still rarer persons who would adorn wealth," Mr. Hubbard retorted, ignoring the latter part of the artist's remark. "Only that you are so astonishingly outspoken, that you might cause a revolution if you had Vanderbilt's millions to add weight to your words. It doesn't do to be too honest."
The sigh which left Fenton's lips was almost one of relief, although he felt that this first attempt to turn the talk into financial channels had failed.
"No," he replied. "Civilized honesty consists largely in making the truth convey a false impression, so that one is saved a lie in words while telling one in effect."
"It is strange how we cling to that old idea that as long as the letter of what we say is true it is no matter if the spirit be false," was Mr. Hubbard's response. "I thought of it yesterday at the meeting of the committee on the statue, when we were all sitting there trying to get the better of each other by telling true falsehoods."
"How does the statue business come on?" Fenton asked.
"Not very fast. I am sure I wish I was out of it. America always was a trouble, and this time is no exception to the rule."
"I hope," Arthur said, speaking with more seriousness, "that Grant Herman will be given the commission. He's all and away the best man."
He had secretly a feeling that he was putting an item on the credit side of his account with the sculptor in urging his fitness for this work.
"It is hard to do anything with Calvin and Irons. I've always been for Herman, but I don't mind telling you in confidence that I stand alone on the committee."
"Isn't there any way of helping things on? Wouldn't a petition from the artists do some good?"
"It might. But if you get up one don't let me know. I'd rather be able to say that I had no knowledge of it if it came before us."
Fenton smiled and continued his painting. With a thrill half of triumph, half of rage, he became aware that he was this morning succeeding admirably in getting just the likeness he wanted in the sitter's portrait. He had feared lest his excitement should render him unfit for work, but it had, on the contrary, spurred him up to unusual effectiveness. The thought came into his mind of the price at which he was buying this skill, and it was characteristic that the reflection which followed was that at least, if he caused Hubbard to lose money by betraying the secret he hoped to get from him, he was, to a degree, repaying him by painting a portrait which could under no other circumstances be so good.
It was no less characteristic of Fenton's mental habits that he looked upon himself as having committed the crime against his sitter which had yet to be carried out. In his logic, the legitimate, however distorted, legacy from Puritan ancestors, the sin lay in the determination; and he would have held himself almost as guilty had circumstances at this moment freed him from the disagreeable necessity of going on with his attempt. Doubtless in this fact lay in part the explanation of the firmness of his purpose. He would still have suffered in self-respect, since abandonment of his plan, even if voluntary, would not alter the fact that he had in intention been guilty. He would have said that theoretically there was no difference between intention and commission, and however casuists might reason, he took a curious delight in being scrupulously exacting with himself in his moral requirements, the fact that he held himself in his actions practically above such considerations naturally making this less difficult than it otherwise would have been. Every man has his private ethical methods, and this was the way in which Arthur Fenton's mind held itself in regard to that right of which he often denied the existence.
"I suppose," he remarked at length, with deliberate intent of entrapping Hubbard into some inadvertent betrayal of his secret, "that you business men have no sort of an idea how ignorant a man of my profession can be in regard to business. I had a note this morning from a broker whom I've been having help me a little in a sort of infantile attempt at stock gambling, and he advises me to find a financial kindergarten and attend it."
"I dare say he is right," the other returned, smiling. "You had better beware of stock gambling, if you are not desirous of ending your days in a poorhouse."
"But what can one do? It is only the men of large experience and so much capital that they do not need it who have a chance at safe investments."
He felt that he was bungling horribly, but he knew no other way of getting on in his attempt. He was terrified by the openness of his tactics. It seemed to him that any man must be able to perceive what he was driving at, but he desperately assured himself that after all Hubbard could not possibly have any reason to suspect him of a design of pumping him.
"Oh, there are plenty of safe investments," the sitter said, as if the matter were one of no great moment. Then, looking at his watch, he added, "I must go in fifteen minutes. I have an engagement."
Fenton dared not risk another direct trial, but he skirted about the subject on which his thoughts were fixed. His attempts, however, though ingenious, were fruitless; and he saw Hubbard step down from the dais where he posed, with a baffled sense of having failed utterly.
"The country is really beginning to look quite spring-like," he said, as he stood by while his sitter put on his overcoat.
He spoke in utter carelessness, simply to avoid a silence which would perhaps seem a little awkward; but the shot of accident hit the mark at which his careful aim had been vain.
"Yes, it is," the other responded. "I was out of town with Staggchase yesterday, looking at some meadows we talk of buying for a factory site, and I was surprised to see how forward things are."
Yesterday Mrs. Staggchase had casually mentioned to Fred Rangely that her husband had gone to Feltonville; and at the St. Filipe Club in the evening, as they were playing poker, Rangely had excused the absence of Mr. Staggchase, who was to be of the party, by telling this fact.
After Hubbard was gone, Fenton stood half dizzy with mingled exultation and shame. He exulted in his victory, but he felt as if he had committed murder.
And that evening Mrs. Amanda Welsh Sampson received a note from Mr. Irons, in which Feltonville was mentioned.
LIKE COVERED FIRE. Much Ado about Nothing; iii.—2.
Mrs. Amanda Welsh Sampson was playing a somewhat difficult game, and she was playing it well. She was entertaining Mr. Greenfield, the Feltonville member, and she had also as a casual guest for the evening, Mr. Erastus Snaffle, and successfully to work the one off against the other was a task from which the cleverest of society women might be excused for shrinking, even had it been presented to her in terms of her own circle.
Greenfield was an honest, straightforward countryman; big, and rather burly, with a clear eye and a curling chestnut beard. He was a man at once of great force of character, and of singular simplicity. He exerted a vast influence in his country neighborhood in virtue of the respect inspired by his invincible integrity, a certain shrewdness which was the more effective at short range from the fact that it was really narrow in its spread, and perhaps most of all of his bluff, demonstrative kindliness. Tom Greenfield's hearty laugh and cordial handshake had won him more votes than many a more able man has been able to secure by the most thorough acquaintance with the questions and interests with which election would make it the duty of a man to be concerned; but it must be added that no man ever used his influence more disinterestedly and honestly, or more conscientiously fulfilled the duties of his position, as he understood them.
Such a man was peculiarly likely to become the victim of a woman like Mrs. Sampson. The plea of relationship on which she had sought his acquaintance disarmed suspicion at the outset. His country manners were familiar with family ties as a genuine bond, and he had no reason whatever to suppose that any ulterior motive was possible to this woman who affected to be so ignorant of politics and public business.
In the weeks which had elapsed since her interview with Alfred Irons, Mrs. Sampson had been making the most of the fraction of the season which remained to her. She had offered excuses which Greenfield's simple soul found satisfactory why she had not sought her cousin's acquaintance early in the winter, and the very irksomeness of the enforced absence from his country home which seized him as spring came on, made him the more susceptible to the blandishments of the mature siren who, with cunning art, was meshing her nets about him.
He had quite fallen into the habit of passing his unoccupied evenings with the widow, and she in turn had denied herself to some of her familiar friends on occasions when she had reason to expect him. Had she known he was likely to come this evening, she would have taken care to guard against his meeting with Snaffle; but as that gentleman was first in the field, she had her choice between sending Greenfield away and seeing them together. Like the clever woman she was, she chose the latter alternative, and found, too, her account in so doing.
Erastus Snaffle was more familiarly than favorably known in financial circles of Boston, as the man who had put afloat more wild-cat stocks than any other speculator on the street. It might be supposed that his connection with any scheme would be enough to wreck its prospects, yet whatever he took hold of floated for a time. There was always a feeling among his victims that at length he had come to the place where he must connect himself with a respectable scheme for the sake of re- establishing his reputation; but this hope was never realized. Perhaps whatever he touched ceased from that moment to be either reliable or respectable. However, since Snaffle was possessed of so inexhaustible a fund of plausibility that he never failed to find investors who placed confidence in his wildest statements, it after all made very little difference to him what his reputation or his financial standing might be.
By one of those singular compensations in which nature seems now and then to make a struggle to adjust the average of human characteristics with something approaching fairness, Snaffle was hardly less gullible than he was skilful in ensnaring others. He was continually making a fortune by launching some bogus stock or other, but it seemed always to be fated that he should lose it again in some equally wild scheme started by a brother sharper. Perhaps between his professional strokes he was obliged to practise at raising credulity in himself merely to keep his hand in; perhaps it was simply that the habit of believing financial absurdities had become a sort of second nature in him; or yet again is it possible that he felt obliged to assume credulity in regard to the falsehoods of his fellow sharpers, as a sort of equivalent for the faith he so often demanded of them; but, whatever may have been the reason, it was at least a fact that his money went in much the same way it came.
In person, Erastus Snaffle was not especially prepossessing. His face would have been more attractive had the first edition of his chin been larger and the succeeding ones smaller, while the days when he could still boast of a waist were so far in the irrevocable past that the imagination refused so long a flight as would be required to reach it. His eyes were small and heavy-lidded, but in them smouldered a dull gleam of cunning that at times kindled into a pointed flame. His dress was in keeping with his person, and his manner quite as vulgar as either.
He was sitting to-night in one corner of the sofa, his corpulent person heaped up in an unshapely mass, talking with a fluency that now and then died away entirely, while he paused to speculate what sort of a game his hostess might be playing with Mr. Greenfield.
"The fact is," Mrs. Sampson was saying, as Snaffle recalled his attention from one of these fits of abstraction, "that I don't know what I shall do this summer; and I don't like to believe that summer is so near that I must decide soon."
"You were at Ashmont last year, weren't you?" Snaffle asked. "Why don't you go there again."
Mrs. Sampson shot him a quick glance which Snaffle understood at once to mean that he was to second her in something she was attempting. He did not yet get his clew clearly enough to understand just how, but the look put him on the alert, as the hostess answered,—
"Oh, it is all spoiled. The railroad has been put through and all the summer visitors are giving it up. I'm sure I don't know what will become of all the poverty-stricken widows that made their living out of taking boarders. That railroad has been an expensive job for Ashmont in every way."
Greenfield smiled, his big, genial smile which had so much warmth in it.
"That isn't usually the way people look at the effect of a railroad on a town."
This time the look which Mrs. Sampson gave Snaffle told him so plainly what she wanted him to do that he spoke at once, her almost imperceptible nod showing him that he was on the right track.
"Oh, a railroad is always the ruin of a small town," he said, "unless it is its terminus. It sucks all the life out of the villages along the way. You go along any of the lines in Massachusetts, and you will find that while the towns have been helped by the road, the small villages have been knocked into a cocked hat. All the young people have left them; all the folks in the neighborhood go to some city to do their trading, and the stuffing is knocked out of things generally."
Mrs. Sampson looked at Snaffle with a thoroughly gratified expression.
"I don't know much about the business part of the question, of course," she said, "but I do know that a railroad takes all the young men out of a village. A woman I boarded with at Ashmont last year wrote to me the other day in the greatest distress because her only son had left her. She said it was all the railroad, and her letter was really pathetic."
"Oh, that's a woman's way of looking at it," rejoined Greenfield, the greatest struggle of whose life, as Mrs. Sampson was perfectly well aware, was to keep at home his only child, a youth just coming to manhood. "It is easy enough for boys to get away nowadays, and just having a railroad at the door wouldn't make any great difference."
"It does, though, make a mighty sight of difference," Snaffle said, rolling his head and putting his plump white hands together. "Somehow or other, the having that train scooting by day in and day out unsettles the young fellows. The whistle stirs them up, and keeps reminding them how easy it is to go out West or somewhere or other. I've seen it time and again."
"Well," Greenfield returned, a shadow over his genial face, "I have a youngster that's got the Western fever pretty bad without any railroads coming to Feltonville. But what you say is only one side of the question. When a railroad comes it always brings business in one way or another. The increase of transportation facilities is sure to build things up."
"Oh, yes, it builds them up," Snaffle chuckled, as if the idea afforded him infinite amusement, "but how does it work. There are two or three men in the town who start market gardens and make something out of it. They sell their produce in the city and they do their trading there; they hire Irish laborers from outside the village; and how much better off is the town, except that it can tax them a trifle more if it can get hold of the valuation of their property." "Which it generally can't," interpolated Greenfield grimly, with an inward reminder of certain experiences as assessor.
"Or somebody starts a factory," Snaffle went on, "and then the town is made, ain't it? Outside capital is invested, outside operatives brought in to turn the place upside down and to bring in all the deviltries that have been invented, and all the town has to show in the long run is a little advance in real estate over the limited area where they want to build houses for the mill-hands. There's no end of rot talked about improving towns by putting up factories, but I can't see it myself."
Snaffle sometimes said that he believed in nothing but making money, and there was never any reason to suppose he held an opinion because he expressed it. He said what he felt to be politic, and a long and complicated experience enabled him to defend any view with more or less plausibility upon a moment's notice. He was clever enough to see that for some reason the widow wished him to pursue the line of talk he had taken, and he was ready enough to oblige her. He never took the trouble to inquire of himself what his opinions were, because that question was of so secondary importance; he merely exerted himself to make the most of any points that presented themselves to his mind in favor of the side it was for his advantage to support.
"'Pon my word," Greenfield said, with a laugh, "you talk like an old fogy of the first water. I wouldn't have suspected you of looking at things that way."
"Mr. Snaffle is always surprising," Mrs. Sampson said, with her most dazzling smile, "but he is generally right."
"Thank you. I can't help at any rate seeing that there are two sides to this thing, and I am too old a bird to be caught with the common chaff that people talk."
Mr. Greenfield settled himself comfortably in his chair and laughed softly. The discussion was so purely theoretical that he could be amused without looking upon it seriously.
"For my part," he remarked, his big hand playing with a paper-knife on one of the little tables, which, to a practised eye, suggested cards, "I am of the progressive party, thank you. I believe in opening up the country and putting railroads where they will do the most good. A few people get their old prejudices run against, but on the whole it is for the interest of a town to have a railroad, and it is nonsense to talk any other way."
Mrs. Amanda Welsh Sampson leaned forward to lay her fingers upon the speaker's arm.
"That is just it, Cousin Tom," she said, with a languishing glance. "You always look at things in so large a way. You never let the matter of personal interest decide, but think of the public good,"
The flattery was somewhat gross, but men will swallow a good deal in the way of praise from women. They are generally slow to suspect the fair sex of sarcasm, and allow themselves the luxury of enjoying the pleasure of indulging their vanity untroubled by unpleasant doubts concerning the sincerity of compliments which from masculine lips would offend them. Greenfield laughed with a perceptible shade of awkwardness, but he was evidently not ill pleased.
"Oh, well," he returned, "that is because thus far it has happened that my personal interests and my convictions have worked together so well. You might see a difference if they didn't pull in the same line."
Mrs. Sampson considered a moment, and then rose, bringing out a decanter of sherry with a supply of glasses and of biscuit from a convenient closet in the bottom of a secretary.
"That's business," Snaffle said, joyously. "Sherry ain't much for a man of my size, but it's better than nothing."
"It is a hint though," the hostess said, filling his glass.
"A hint!" he repeated.
"Yes; a hint that it is getting late, and that I am tired, and you must go home."
"Oh, ho!" he laughed uproariously; "now I won't let you in for that good thing on the Princeton Platinum stock. You'll wish you hadn't turned me out of the house when you see that stock quoted at fifty per cent above par."
"Ah, I know all about Princeton Platinum," she responded, showing her white teeth rather more than was absolutely demanded by the occasion; "besides, I've no money to put into anything."
"What about Princeton Platinum?" Greenfield asked, turning toward the other a shrewd glance. "I've heard a good deal of talk about it lately, but I didn't pay much attention to it."
"Princeton Platinum," the hostess put in before Snaffle could speak, "is Mr. Snaffle's latest fairy story. It is a dream that people buy pieces of for good hard samoleons, and"—
"Good what?" interrupted the country member.
"Shekels, dollars, for cash under whatever name you choose to give it; and then some fine morning they all wake up."
"Well?" demanded Snaffle, to whom the jest seemed not in the least distasteful. "And what then?"
"Oh, what is usually left of dreams when one wakes up in the morning?"
The fat person of the speculator shook with appreciation of the wit of this sally, which did not seem to Greenfield so funny as from the laughter of the others he supposed it must really be. The latter rose when Snaffle did and prepared to say good-night, but Mrs. Sampson detained him. "I want to speak with you a moment," she said. "Good- night, Mr. Snaffle. Bear us in mind when Princeton Platinum has made your fortune, and don't look down on us."
"No fear," he returned. "When that happens, I shall come to you for advice how to spend it."
There was too much covetousness in her voice as she answered jocosely that she could tell him. The struggle of life made even a jesting supposition of wealth excite her cupidity. She sighed as she turned back into the parlor and motioned Greenfield to a seat. Placing herself in a low, velvet-covered chair, she stretched out her feet before her, displaying the black silk stocking upon a neat instep as she crossed them upon a low stool.
"I am sure I don't know how to say what I want to," she began, knitting her brows in a perplexity that was only part assumed. "Something has come to me in the strangest way, and I think I ought to tell you, although I haven't any interest in it, and it certainly isn't any of my business."
Her companion was too blunt to be likely to help her much. He simply asked, in the most straightforward manner,—
"What is it?"
"It's about public business," she said. "Why!" she added, as if a sudden light had broken upon her. "I really believe I was going to be a lobbyist. Fancy me lobbying! What does a lobbyist do?"
"Nothing that you'd be likely to have any hand in," returned Greenfield, smiling at the absurdity of the proposition. "What is all this about?"
"I suppose I should not have thought of it but for the turn the talk took to-night," she returned with feminine indirectness. "It was odd, wasn't it, that we should get to talking of the harm railroads do, when it was about a railroad that I was going to talk."
"There's only one railroad scheme on foot this spring that I know anything about, and that's for a branch of the Massachusetts Outside Railroad through Wachusett. That isn't in the Legislature either."
"That's the one. It's going to be in the Legislature. There's going to be an attempt to change the route."
"Change the route?"
"Yes, so it will go through—but will you promise not to tell this to a living mortal?"
"I suppose," she said, regarding her slipper intently, "that I really ought not to tell you; but I can't help it somehow. Your name is to be used."
"Yes, the men who are planning the thing say that it will be so evident that you'd want the road to go this new way, that if you vote with the Wachusett interest they'll swear you are bought."
"Swear I'm bought? Pooh! Tom Greenfield is too well known for that sort of talk to hold water."
"But through your own town"—
Mrs. Sampson regarded her companion closely as she slowly pronounced these words. They roused him like an electric shock.
She nodded, compressing her lips, but saying nothing.
"Phew! This is a tough nut to crack. But are you sure that is to be tried?"
"Yes; there is a scheme for a few monopolists to buy up mill privileges and run factories at Feltonville; and they mean to make the road serve them, instead of its being put where the public need it."
"So that's what Lincoln's been raking up in Boston," Greenfield said to himself. "I knew he was up to some deviltry. Wants to sell off those meadows he's been gathering in on mortgages."
"Of course you'll want to help your town," Mrs. Sampson said, regretfully. "The men that voted for you'll expect you to do it; but it's helping on a sly scheme at the expense of the state. I'm sorry you've got to be on that side."
"Got to be on that side?" he retorted, starting up. "Who says I've got to be on that side? we'll see about that before we get through. The men that voted for me expect me to do what is right, and I don't think they'll be disappointed just yet."
And all things considered, Mrs. Amanda Welsh Sampson thought she had done a good evening's work.
WEIGHING DELIGHT AND DOLE. Hamlet; i.—2.
"Oh, this is completely captivating," Mrs. Frostwinch said, as she sat down to luncheon in Edith Fenton's pretty dining-room, and looked at the large mound-like bouquet of richly tinted spring leaves which adorned the centre of the table. "That is the advantage of having brains. One always finds some delightful surprise or other at your house."
"Thank you," Edith returned, gayly; "but at your house one always has a delightful surprise in the hostess, so you are not forced to resort to makeshifts."
Helen Greyson, the third member of the party, smiled and shook her head.
"Really," she said, "is one expected to keep up to the level of elaborate compliment like that? I fear I can only sit by in admiring silence while you two go on."
"Oh, no," the hostess responded. "Mrs. Frostwinch is to talk to you. That is what you people are here for. I am only to listen."
Edith had invited Helen and Mrs. Frostwinch to take luncheon with her, and she had really done it to bring these two more closely together. She was fond of them both, and the effect of her life in the world into which her marriage had introduced her had been to render her capable of judging both these women broadly. She admired them both, and while her feeling of affection had by circumstances been more closely cemented with Helen, she felt that a strong friendship was possible between herself and Mrs. Frostwinch should the lines of their lives ever fall much together.
The modern woman, particularly if she be at all in society, has generally to accept the possibilities of friendship in place of that gracious boon itself. The busy round of life to-day gives ample opportunity for judging of character, so that it is well nigh impossible not to feel that some are worthy of friendship, some especially gifted by nature with the power of inspiring it, while, on the other hand, there are those who repel or with whom the bond would be impossible. But friendship, however much it be the result of eternal fitness and the inevitable consequence of the meeting of two harmonious natures, is a plant of slow growth, and few things which require time and tranquillity for their nourishment flourish greatly in this age of restlessness and intense mental activity. The radical and unfettered Bohemian, or such descendants of that famous race as may be supposed still to survive, attempts to leap over all obstacles, to create what must grow, and to turn comradeship into friendship simply because one naturally grows out of the other; the more conservative and logical Philistine recognizes the futility of this attitude, and in his too careful consistency sometimes needlessly brings about the very same failure by pursuing the opposite course.
Edith was not of the women who naturally analyze their own feelings toward others over keenly, but one cannot live in a world without sharing its mental peculiarities. The times are too introspective to allow any educated person to escape self-examination. The century which produced that most appalling instance of spiritual exposure, the "Journal Intime" which it is impossible to read without blushing that one thus looks upon the author's soul in its nakedness, leaves small chance for self-unconsciousness. Edith could not help examining her mental attitude toward her companions, and it was perhaps a proof of the sweetness of her nature that she found in her thought nothing of that shortcoming in them, or reason for lack of fervor in friendship other than such as must come from lack of intercourse.
Perhaps some train of thought not far removed from the foregoing made her say, as the luncheon progressed,—
"Really, it seems to me as if life proceeded at a pace so rapid nowadays that one had not time even to be fond of anybody."
"It goes too fast for one to have much chance to show it," Helen responded; "but one may surely be fond of one's friends, even without seeing them."
"If you will swear not to tell the disgraceful fact," Mrs. Frostwinch said, "I'll confess that I abhor Walt Whitman; but that one dreadful, disreputably slangy phrase of his, 'I loaf and invite my soul,' echoes through my brain like an invitation to Paradise."
"If Arthur were here," she returned, "he would probably say that you think you mean that, but that really you don't."
"My dear," Mrs. Frostwinch answered, with her beautiful smile and a characteristic undulation of the neck, "your husband, although he is clever to an extent which I consider positively immoral, is only a man, and he does not understand. Men do what they like; women, what they can. There may be moral free will for women, although I've ceased to be sure of that even; but socially no such thing exists. Do we wear the dreadful clothes we are tied up in because we want to? Do we order society, or our lives, or our manners, or our morals? Do we"—
"There, there," interrupted Helen, laughing and putting up her hand. "I can't hear all this without a protest. If it is true I won't own it. I had rather concede that all women are fools"—
"As indeed they are," interpolated Mrs. Frost-winch.
"Than that they are helpless manikins," continued Helen. "In any other sense, that is," she added, "than men are."
"My dear Mrs. Greyson," the other said, leaning toward her, "you take the single question of the relation of the sexes, and where are we? I wouldn't own it to a man for the world, but the truth is that men are governed by their will, and women are governed by men; and, what is more, if it could all be changed to-morrow, we should be perfectly miserable until we got the old way back again; and that's the most horribly humiliating part of it."
"It is easy to see that you are not a woman suffragist," commented Edith.
"Woman suffrage," echoed the other, her voice never for an instant varied from its even and highbred pitch; "woman suffrage must remain a practical impossibility until the idea can be eradicated from society that the initiative in passion is the province of man."
"Brava!" cried the hostess. "Mr. Herman ought to hear that epigram. He asked me last night if he ought to put an inscription in favor of woman suffrage on the hem of the America he is modelling."
Helen turned toward her quickly.
"Is Mr. Herman making a model of the America?" she asked. "Has he the commission?"
"He hasn't the commission, because nobody has it, but he has been asked by the committee to prepare a model."
"That is"—began Helen. "Strange," she was going to say, but fortunately caught herself in time and substituted "capital. It is good to think that Boston will have one really fine statue."
"Aren't you in that, Mrs. Greyson?" Mrs. Frostwinch asked.
"No," Helen answered. "I am really doing little since I came home. I am waiting until the time serves, I suppose."
She spoke without especial thought of what she was saying, desiring merely to cover any indications which might show the feeling aroused by what she had just heard and the decision she had just taken to have nothing to do with the contest for the statue of America, although she had begun a study for the figure.
"I admire you for being able to make time serve you instead of serving time like the rest of us," Mrs. Frostwinch said.
"I shouldn't hear another call you a time server without taking up the cudgels to defend you," responded Edith.
Mrs. Frostwinch smiled in reply to this. Then she turned again to Helen.
"To tell the truth, Mrs. Greyson," she observed, "I am glad you are not concerned in this statue, for I am myself one of a band of conspirators who are pushing the claims of a new man."
"Is there a new sculptor?" Helen asked, smiling. "That is wonderful news."
"Yes; we think he is the coming man. His name is Stanton; Orin Stanton."
"Oh," responded Helen, with involuntary frankness in her accent.
Mrs. Frostwinch laughed with perfect good nature.
"You don't admire him?" she commented. "Well, many don't. To say the truth, I do not think anybody alive, if you will pardon me, Mrs. Greyson, knows the truth about sculpture. Perhaps the Greeks did, but we don't, even when we are told. I know the Soldiers' Monument on the Common is hideous beyond words, because everybody says so; but they didn't when it was put up. Only a few artists objected then."
"And the fact that a few artists have brought everybody to their opinion," Edith asked, "doesn't make you feel that they must be right; must have the truth behind them?"
"No; frankly, I can't say that it does," Mrs. Frostwinch responded.
She leaned back in her chair, a soft flush on her thin, high-bred face. Her figure, in a beautiful gown of beryl plush embroidered with gold, seemed artistically designed for the carved, high-backed chair in which she sat, and both her companions were too appreciative to lose the grace of the picture she made.
"I cannot see that it is bad," she went on. "Mr. Fenton has proved it to me, and even Mr. Herman, who seems, so far as I have seen him, the most charitable of men, when I asked him how he liked it, spoke with positive loathing of it. I can't manage to make myself unhappy over it, that's all. And I believe I am as appreciative as the average."
To Helen there was something at once fascinating and repellent in this talk. She was attracted by Mrs. Frostwinch. The perfect breeding, the grace, the polish of the woman, won upon her strongly, while yet the subtile air of taking life conventionally, of lacking vital earnestness, was utterly at variance with the sculptor's temperament and methods of thought. She no sooner recognized this feeling than she rebuked herself for shallowness and a want of charity, yet even so the impression remained. To the artistic temperament, enthusiasm is the only excuse for existence.
"I think Mrs. Fenton is right," she said. "The few form the correct judgment, and the many adopt it in the end because it is based on truth. It seems to me," she continued, thoughtfully, "that the prime condition of effectiveness is constancy, and only that opinion can be constant that has truth for a foundation, because no other basis would remain to hold it up."
"That may be true," was the reply, "if you take matters in a sufficiently long range, but you seem to me to be viewing things from the standpoint of eternity."
The smile with which she said these last words was so charming that Helen warmed toward her, and she smiled also in replying,—
"Isn't that, after all, the only safe way to look at things?"
"What deep waters we are getting into," Edith commented. "And yet they say women are always frivolous."
"The Boston luncheon," returned Mrs. Frost-winch, "is a solemn assembly for the discussion of mighty themes. Yesterday, at Mrs. Bodewin Ranger's, we disposed of all the knotty problems relating to the lower classes."
"I didn't know but it might be something about my house. The last time Mrs. Greyson lunched here we solemnly debated what a wife should do whose husband did not appreciate her."
She spoke brightly, but there was in her tone, an undercurrent of feeling which touched Helen, and betrayed the fact that this return to the old theme was not wholly without a cause. Mrs. Greyson divined that Edith was not happy, and with the keenness of womanly instinct she divined also that there was not perfect harmony between Mrs. Fenton and her husband. She looked up quickly, with an instinctive desire to turn the conversation, but found no words ready.
Edith had at the moment yielded to a woman's craving for sympathy. An incident which had happened that forenoon troubled and bewildered her. She had been down town, and remembering a matter of importance about which she had neglected to consult her husband in the morning, she had turned aside to visit his studio, a thing she seldom did in his working hours. She found him painting from a model, and she was kept waiting a moment while the latter retired from sight. She thought nothing of this, but as she stood talking with Arthur, her glance fell upon a wrap which she recognized as belonging to Mrs. Herman, and which had been carelessly left upon the back of a chair in sight. Even this might not have troubled her, had it not been that when she looked questioningly from the garment to her husband, she caught a look of consternation in his eyes. His glance met hers and turned aside with that almost imperceptible wavering which shows the avoidance to be intentional; and a pang of formless terror pierced her.
All the way home she was tormented by the wonder how that wrap could have come in her husband's studio, and what reason he could have for being disturbed by her seeing it there. She was not a woman given to petty or vulgar jealousy, and she had from the first left the artist perfectly free in his professional relations to be governed by the necessities or the conveniences of his profession. She could not to- day, however, rid herself of the feeling that some mystery lay behind the incident of the morning. She began to frame excuses. She speculated whether it were possible that Arthur were secretly painting the portrait of his friend's wife, to produce it as a surprise to them all. She said to herself that Ninitta naturally knew models, and might easily have enough of a feeling of comradeship remaining from the time when she had been a model herself, to lend or give them articles of dress. Unfortunately, she knew how Ninitta kept herself aloof from her old associates since the birth of her child, and the explanation did not satisfy her.
No faintest suspicion of positive evil entered Edith's mind. She was only vaguely troubled, the incident forming one more of the trifles which of late had made her very uneasy in regard to her husband. She told herself that she had confidence in Arthur; but the woman who is forced to reflect that she has confidence in her husband has already begun, however unconsciously, to doubt him.
"The question is profound enough," Mrs. Frostwinch answered Edith's words in her even tones, which somehow seemed to reduce everything to a well-bred abstraction. "Of course the thing for a Woman to do is to remain determinedly ignorant until it would be too palpably absurd to pretend any longer; and then she must get away from him as quietly as possible. The evil in these things is, after all, the stir and the talk, and all the unpleasant and vulgar gossip which inevitably attends them."
Poor Edith cringed as if she had received a blow, and to cover her emotion she gave the signal for rising from the table. But as she did so, her eyes met those of Helen, and the truth leaped from one to the other in one of those glances in which the heart, taken unaware, reveals its joy or its woe with irresistible frankness. Whatever words Edith and Helen might or might not exchange thereafter, the story of Mrs. Fenton's married life and of the anguish of her soul was told in that look; and her friend understood it fully.
THE HEAVY MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. Measure for Measure; iv.—10.
The temper of clubs, like that of individuals, changes from time to time, however constant remains its temperament. Those who reflected upon such matters noticed that at the St. Filipe Club, where a few years back there had been much talk of art and literature, and abstract principles, there had come to be a more worldly, perhaps a Philistine would say a more mature, flavor to the conversation. There were a good many stories told about its wide fireplaces, and there was much running comment on current topics, political and otherwise. There was, perhaps, a more cosmopolitan air to the talk.
That the old-time flavor could sometimes reappear, however, was evident from the talk going on about nine o'clock on the evening of the day of Edith's luncheon. The approach of the time set for an exhibition of paintings in the gallery of the club turned the conversation toward art, and as several of the quondam Pagans were present, the old habits of speech reasserted themselves somewhat.
"I understand Fenton's going to let us see his new picture," somebody said.
"He is if he gets it done," Tom Bently answered. "He's painting so many portraits nowadays that he didn't get it finished for the New York exhibition."
"He must be making a lot of money," Fred Rangely observed.
"He needs to to keep his poker playing up," commented Ainsworth.
"He's lucky if he makes money in these days when it's the swell thing to have some foreign duffer paint all the portraits," Bently said. "It makes me sick to see the way Englishmen rake in the dollars over here."
"How would you feel," asked Rangely, "if you tried to get a living by writing novels, and found the market glutted with pirated English reprints?"
"Oh, novels," retorted Tom, "they are of no account any way. Modern novels are like modern investments; they are all principle and no interest."
"I like that," put in Ainsworth, "when most of them haven't any principle at all."
"Neither have investments in the end," Bently returned. "At least I know mine haven't."
"If you were a writer you'd be spared that pain," was Rangely's reply, "for want of anything to start an investment with."
"I've about come to the conclusion," another member said, "that a man may be excused for making literature his practice, but that he is a fool to make it his profession. It does very well as an amusement, but it's no good as a business."
"The idea is correct," Rangely replied, ringing the bell and ordering from the servant who responded, "although it does not strike me as being either very fresh or very original."
There was a digression for a moment or two while they waited for their drinks and imbibed them. And then Fred, with the air of one who utters a profound truth, and answers questions both spoken and unspoken, observed as he set down his glass,—
"There's one thing of which I am sure; American literature will never advance much until women are prevented from writing book reviews."
"Meaning," said Arthur Fenton, entering and with his usual quickness seizing the thread of conversation at once, "that some woman critic or other hit the weak spot in Fred's last book."
"Hallo, Fenton," called Bently, in his usual explosive fashion. "I haven't seen you this long time. I did not know whether you were dead or alive."
"Oh, as usual, occupying a middle ground between the two. Are you coming upstairs, Fred?"
A smile ran around the circle.
"At it again, Fenton?" Ainsworth asked. "You'll have to go West and be made a senator if you keep on playing poker every night."
"If I don't have better luck than I've been having lately," Fenton rejoined, as he and Rangely left the room, "I should have to have a subscription taken up to pay my travelling expenses."
The card-rooms were upstairs, and Fenton and Rangely went to them without speaking. The artist was speculating whether a ruse he had just executed would be successful; his companion was thinking of the news he had just had from New York, that a girl with whom he had flirted at the mountains last summer was about to visit Boston.
Around a baize-covered table in the card-room sat three or four men, in one of whom Rangely recognized the corpulent and vulgar person of Mr. Erastus Snaffle. He nodded to him with an air of qualifying his recognition with certain mental reservations, while Fenton said as he took his place beside Chauncy Wilson, who moved to make room for him,—
"Good evening, Mr. Snaffle. Have you come up to clean the club out again?"
Mr. Snaffle looked up as if he did not fully comprehend, but he chuckled as he answered,—
"I should think it was time. I was never inside this club that I didn't get bled."
The men laughed in a somewhat perfunctory way, and the cards having been dealt, the game went on. They were all members of the club except Snaffle, and they all knew that this rather doubtful individual had no business there at all. There had of late been a good deal of feeling in the club because the rule that forbade the bringing of strangers into the house had been so often violated. The St. Filipe was engaged in the perfectly fruitless endeavor to enforce the regulation that visitors might be admitted provided the same person was not brought into the rooms twice within a fixed period. Some of the members violated the rule unconsciously, since it was awkward to invite a friend into the club and to qualify the courtesy with the condition that he had not been asked by anybody else within the prescribed period, and it was easy to forget this ungracious preliminary. Some few of the members— since in every club there will be men who are gentlemen but by brevet, —deliberately took advantage of the uncertainty which always arises from so anomalous a regulation, and the result of deliberate and of involuntary breaches of the rule had been that the club house was made free with by outsiders to a most unpleasant extent.
Not yet ready to do away with the by-law, since many members found—it convenient and pleasant to take their friends into the club-house, the managers of the affairs of the St. Filipe were making a desperate effort to discover all offenders who were intentionally guilty of violating the regulation. They had their eye on several outsiders who made free with the house, and it was understood that certain men were in danger of being requested not to continue their visits to a place where they had no right. Snaffle, who had been first brought to the club by Dr. Wilson to play poker, was one of these, and the men who sat playing with him to-night were secretly curious to know how he happened to be there on this particular occasion. He had come into the card-room alone, with the easy air of familiarity which usually distinguished him, and appearances seemed to point to his having taken the liberty of walking into the house in the same way. The men liked well enough to have him in the game, because he played recklessly and always left money at the table, but not one of them, even Dr. Wilson, who was more recklessly democratic in his habits and instincts than any of the rest, would have cared to be seen walking with Erastus Snaffle on the streets by daylight.
When Snaffle entered the club house, the servant whose duty it was to wait at the outer door, had gone for a moment to the coat-room adjoining the hall. Here Snaffle met him and offered him his coat and hat. The servant extended his hand mechanically, but he looked at the new-comer so pointedly that the latter muttered, by way of credentials,—
"I came with Mr. Fenton."
The servant made no comment, but as Mr. Snaffle went upstairs, he reported to the steward that the intruder was again in the house and had been introduced by Mr. Fenton. The steward in turn reported this to the Secretary, and before Arthur himself came in, a rod was already preparing for him in the shape of a complaint to be made before the Executive Committee.
It was thus that precisely the thing happened which Fenton had with his usual cleverness endeavored to guard against. Impudent as Mr. Snaffle was capable of being, he would never have ventured uninvited into the precincts of the St. Filipe Club, where even when introduced he found himself somewhat overpowered by the social standing and the lofty manners of those around him. This feeling of awe showed itself in two ways, had any one been clever enough to appreciate the fact. It rendered him unusually silent, and it induced him to play high, as if he felt under obligations to pay for his admission into company where he did not belong.
It was to this last fact that he owed his invitation to be present on this particular evening. Arthur Fenton was going to the club to play poker, urged partly by the love of excitement and perhaps even more by the hope of raising a part or the whole of the fifty dollars of which he had pressing need, when he encountered Snaffle standing on a street corner. Fenton's acquaintance with the man had been confined to their meetings in the card-room of the St. Filipe, but he had once or twice carried home in his pocket very substantial tokens of Snaffle's reckless play. Almost without being conscious of what he did, Fenton stopped and extended his hand.
"Good evening," he said. "What is up? Are you ready for your revenge?"
"Oh, I'm always ready for a good game," Snaffle answered. "I was going to see my best girl, but I don't mind taking a hand instead."
Fenton smiled as the other turned and walked with him toward the club, but inwardly he loathed the fat, vulgar man at his side. His sense of the fitness of things was outraged by his being obliged to associate with such a creature, and that the obligation arose entirely from his own will, only showed to his mind how helpless he was in the hands of fate. He was outwardly gracious enough, but inwardly he nourished a bitter hatred against Erastus Snaffle for constraining him to go through this humiliation before he could win his money.
As they neared the club, Fenton recalled the fact that there had been some talk about visitors, and that the presence of this very man had been especially objected to, and reflected that in any case he had no desire to be seen going in with him. As they entered the vestibule the door was not opened for them, and Fenton's quick wit appreciated the fact that the servant who should be sitting just inside, was not in his place. With an inward ejaculation of satisfaction at this good fortune, he put his hand to his breast pocket.
"Oh, pshaw!" he exclaimed. "There are those confounded letters I promised to post. You go in, Mr. Snaffle, and I'll go back to the letter box on the corner. You know the way, and you'll find the fellows in the first card-room."
He opened the door as he spoke, and as Snaffle entered and closed it after him, Fenton ran down the steps and walked to the next corner. He had no letters to mail, but it was characteristic of his dramatic way of doing things that he walked to the letter-box, raised the drop and went through the motion of slipping in an envelope. He was accustomed to say that when one played a part it could not be done too carefully, and it amused him to reflect that if he were watched his action would appear consistent with his words, while if he were timed he would be found to have been gone from the club house exactly long enough. Not that he supposed anybody was likely to take the trouble to do either of these things, but Fenton was an imaginative man and he found a humorous pleasure in finishing even his trickery in an artistic manner.
It was Saturday night, and just before midnight a servant opened the card-room door. The room was full of smoke, empty glasses stood beside the players, and piles of red and blue and white "chips" were heaped in uneven distribution along the edges of the table.
"It is ten minutes of twelve, gentlemen," the servant said, and retired.
"Jack-pots round," said Rangely, dealing rapidly. "Look lively now."
He and Fenton had been winning, the pile of blue counters beside the latter representing nearly thirty dollars, with enough red and white ones to cover his original investments. The first jackpot and the second were played, Dr. Wilson wining one and Snaffle the other on the first hand. On the third, Fenton bet for awhile, holding three aces against a full hand held by the fifth man.
"It's all right," Fenton remarked, as Rangely chaffed him. "I am waiting for the 'kittie-pot.' See what a pile there is to go into that. I always expect to gather in the 'kittie.'"
The fourth pot was quickly passed, and then Wilson, who had been managing the "kittie," put upon the table the surplus, which to-night chanced to be unusually large. The cards were dealt and dealt three times again before the pot could be opened, and then Rangely started it. Arthur looked at his hand in disgust. He held the nine of hearts, the five, six, eight, and nine of spades, and as he said to himself he never had luck in drawing to either straight or flush. Still the stake was good, and he came in, discarding his heart. He drew the seven of spades. Rangely was betting on three aces, and Wilson on a full hand, so that the betting ran rather high.
"Twelve o'clock, gentlemen," the servant said at the door.
And when Fenton began his Sunday by winning the pot on his straight flush, he found himself more than sixty dollars to the good on his evening's work.
"You've regularly bled me, Fenton," Snaffle observed with much jocularity, as the players came out of the club house. "I've hardly got a car fare left to take me home. I'm afraid the St. Filipe is a den of thieves."
"I don't mind lending you a car fare, Mr. Snaffle," the artist returned, endeavoring to speak as pleasantly as if he did not object to the familiarity of the other's address. "But don't abuse the club."
"I think I'll go to church," Dr. Wilson said with a yawn. "It must be most time."
"Church-going," Fenton returned, sententiously, "is small beer for small souls."
"There, Fenton," retorted Rangely, as at this minute they came to the corner where they separated, "don't feel obliged to try to be clever. You can't do it at this time of night."
Snaffle continued his walk with the artist almost to Fenton's door, although the latter suspected that it was out of his companion's way. Arthur was willing, however, to give the loser the compensation of his society as a return for the greenbacks in his pocket, and his natural acuteness was so far from being as active as usual that when he found Mr. Snaffle speaking of Princeton Platinum stock he did not suspect that he was being angled for in turn, and that the gambling for the evening was not yet completed. He listened at first without much attention, but the man to whom he listened was wily and clever, and after he was in bed that night the artist's brain was busy planning how to raise money to invest in Princeton Platinum.
"I never saw such luck as yours," Snaffle observed admiringly. "The way you filled that spade flush on that last hand was a miracle. It is just that sort of luck that runs State street and Wall street."
Fenton smiled to himself in the darkness, the proposition was so manifestly absurd, but he was already bitten by the mania for speculation, and when once this madness infects a man's brain the most improbable causes will increase the disease. Snaffle, of course, was too shrewd to ask his companion to buy Princeton Platinum stock, and indeed declared that although he had charge of putting it upon the market, he was reluctant to part with a single share of it. He added with magnanimous frankness, that all mining stock was dangerous, especially for one who did not thoroughly understand it.
But his negatives, as he intended, were more effective than affirmatives would have been, and the bait had been safely swallowed by the unlucky fish for whom the astute speculator angled. Fenton had invited him to the club to be eaten, but the wily visitor secretly regarded the money he lost at the poker table as a paying investment, believing that in the end it was not the bones of plump Erastus Snaffle which were destined to be picked.
HE SPEAKS THE MERE CONTRARY. Love's Labor's Lost; i.—I.
Mrs. Amanda Welsh Sampson sat in her bower, enveloped in an unaccustomed air of respectability, and in a frame of mind exceedingly self-satisfied and serene. She had secured a visit from a New York relative, a distant cousin whose acquaintance she had made in the mountains the summer before, and she hoped from this circumstance to secure much social advantage. For at home Miss Frances Merrivale moved in circles such as her present hostess could only gaze at from afar with burning envy. In her own city, Miss Merrivale would certainly never have consented to know Mrs. Sampson, relationship or no relationship; but she chanced to wish to get away from home for a week or two, she thought somewhat wistfully of the devotion of Fred Rangely at the mountains last summer, and she was not without a hope that if she once appeared in Boston, the Staggchases, who should have invited her to visit them long ago, she being as nearly related to Mr. Staggchase as to Mrs. Sampson, might be moved to ask her to come to stay with them.
It cannot be said that Mrs. Amanda Welsh Sampson, dashing, vulgar social adventurer that she was, had much in common with her guest. Miss Merrivale, it is true, had the incurable disease of social ambition as thoroughly as her hostess; but the girl had, at least, a recognized and very comfortable footing under her feet, while the unfortunate widow kept herself above the surface only by nimble but most tiresome leaps from one precarious floating bit to another. In these matters, moreover, a few degrees make really an immense difference. There is all the inequality which exists between the soldier who wields his sword in a disastrous hollow, and one who strikes triumphant blows from the hillock above. The elevation is to be measured in inches, perhaps, but that range reaches from failure to success. Whether social ambition is proper pride or vulgar presumption depends not upon the feeling itself so much as upon the grade from which it is exercised, and Miss Merrivale very quickly understood that while she was placed upon one side of the dividing line between the two, her hostess was unhappily to be found upon the other.
Indeed Miss Frances had hardly recognized what Mrs. Sampson's surroundings were until she found herself established in the little apartment as a guest of that lady. Her newly found cousin had at the mountains spoken of her father, the late judge, and of her own acquaintances among the great and well known of Boston, with an air which carried conviction to one who had not known her too long. She spoke with playful pathos of her poverty, it is true, but when a woman's gowns will pass muster, talk of poverty is not likely to be taken too seriously. Miss Merrivale knew, moreover, that the widow, like herself, could boast a connection with the Staggchase family.
Now she found herself at the top of an apartment house in a street of Nottingham lace curtains carefully draped back to show the Rogers' groups on neat marble stands behind their precise folds. The awful gulf which yawned between this South End location and the region where abode those whom she counted her own kind socially, was apparent to her the moment she arrived and looked about her. Fred Rangely had called, but Mrs. Sampson had regaled her guest with such tales of his devotion to Mrs. Staggchase that Miss Merrivale received him with much coldness, and his call was not a success. Now she was impatiently waiting for the appearance of Mrs. Staggchase, who, it did not occur to her to doubt, would of course call. She was curious to see her relative, and her fondness for Rangely, such as it was, was marvellously quickened by the presence of a rival in the field. Instead of the appearance of Mrs. Staggchase, however, came a note asking Miss Merrivale to dine, whereat that young woman was angry, and her hostess, although she was too clever to show it, was secretly furious.
This invitation was the result of a conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Richard Staggchase, which had begun by that gentleman's asking his wife at dinner when she was going to call upon Miss Merrivale.
"Not at all, my dear," Mrs. Staggchase answered, "as long as she is visiting that dreadful Mrs. Sampson, I'm not sure, Fred, but that if I had known that creature could claim a cousinship to you, I should have refused to marry you."
"She is a dose," Mr. Staggchase admitted. "I wonder where she lives now. Didn't Frances Merrivale send her address?"
"She lives on Catawba Street, at the top of a speaking tube in one of those dreadful apartment houses where you shout up the tube and they open the door for you by electricity. I wonder how soon it will be, Fred, before you'll drop in a nickel at the door of an apartment house and the person you want to see will be slid out to you on a platform."
"Gad! That wouldn't be a bad scheme," her husband returned, with an appreciative grin. "But, really now, what are you going to do about this girl. She's a sort of cousin, you know, and she's a great friend of the Livingstons."
"We might ask her to come here after she gets through with that woman. I'll write her if you like."
"Without calling?" Mr. Staggchase asked, lifting his eyebrows a little.
"My dear," his wife responded, "I try to do my duty in that estate in life to which I have been appointed, and I am willing to made all possible exceptions to all known rules in favor of your family; but Mrs. Sampson is an impossible exception. I will do nothing that shows her that I am conscious of her existence."
"But it will be awfully rude not to call."
"One can't be rude to such creatures as Mrs. Sampson," returned Mrs. Staggchase, with unmoved decision. "She is one of those dreadful women who watch for a recognition as a cat watches for a mouse. I've seen her at the theatre. She'd pick out one person and run him down with her great bold eyes until he had to bow to her, and then she'd stalk another in the same way. Call or her, indeed! Why, Fred, she'd invite you to a dinner tete-a-tete to-day, if she thought you'd go."
Mr. Staggchase laughed rather significantly.
"Gad! that might be amusing. She is of the kittle cattle, my dear, but you must own that she's a well-built craft."
"Oh, certainly," replied his better half, who was too canny by far to show annoyance, if indeed she felt any, when her husband praised another woman. "If everybody isn't aware of her good points, it isn't that she is averse to advertising them. She has taken up with young Stanton, the sculptor, just because some of us have been interested in him."
"Is he going to make the America statue?"
"That is still uncertain, but for my part I half hope he won't, if that Sampson woman is his kind."
Mr. Staggchase dipped his long fingers into his finger bowl, wiped them with great deliberation and then pushed his chair back from the table. It was very seldom that his wife denied a request he made her, but when she did he knew better than to contend in the matter.
"Very well," he said, "you may do whatever you please. Whether you women are so devilish hard on each other because you know your own sex is more than I should undertake to say."
"Are you going out?"
"Yes," he answered, "I have got to go to a meeting of the Executive Committee of the St. Filipe. There is some sort of a row; I don't know what. How are you going to amuse yourself."
"By doing my duty."
"Do you find duty amusing then; I shouldn't have suspected it."
"Oh, duty's only another name for necessity. I'm going to the theatre with Fred Rangely. He wrote an article for the Observer in favor of that great booby Stanton's having the statue. It was a very lukewarm plea, but I asked him to do it, and as a reward"—
"He is allowed the inestimable boon of taking you to the theatre," finished her husband, "I must say, Dian, that you are, on the whole, the shrewdest woman I know."
"Thank you. I must be just, you know," she returned smiling as brilliantly as if her husband were to be won again.
It was not without reason that Mrs. Staggchase had spoken of herself and her husband as a model couple. Given her theory of married life, nothing could be more satisfactory and consistent than the way in which she lived up to it. Her ideal of matrimony was a sort of mutual laisser faire, conducted with the utmost propriety and politeness. She made an especial point of being as attractive to her husband as to any other man; and she had the immense advantage of never having been in love with anybody but herself and of being philosophical enough not to consider the good things of conversation wasted if they were said for his exclusive benefit. She had no children, and had once remarked in answer to the question whether she regretted this, "There must be some pleasure in having sons old enough to flirt with you; but I don't know of anything else I have lost that I have reason to regret."
Her husband, thorough man of the world as he was, and indeed perhaps for that very reason, never outgrew a pleased surprise that he found his wife so perennially entertaining. He was not unwilling that she should exercise her fascinations on others when she chose, since he had no feeling toward her sufficiently warm to engender anything like jealousy; but he appreciated her to the full.
He rose from his seat and walked to the sideboard, where he selected a cigar.
"I must say," he observed, between the puffs as he lighted it, "that you are justice incarnate. You have always kept accounts squared with me most beautifully."
Mrs. Staggchase laughed softly, toying with the tiny spoon of Swiss carved silver with which she had stirred her coffee. Her husband had expressed perfectly her theory of marital relations. She balanced accounts in her mind with the most scrupulous exactness, and was an admirable debtor if a somewhat unrelenting creditor. She had a definite standard by which she measured her obligations to Mr. Staggchase, and she never allowed herself to fall short in the measure she gave him. She was fond of him in a conveniently mild and reasonable fashion, and a marriage founded upon mutual tolerance, if it is likely never to be intensely happy, is also likely to be a pretty comfortable one. Mrs. Staggchase paid to her husband all her tithes of mint and anise and cumin, and she even sometimes presented him with a propitiatory offering in excess of her strict debt; only such a gift was always set down in her mental record as a gift and not as a tribute.
"This Stanton is an awful lout, Fred," she observed. "Perhaps he can make a good statue of America, but if he can it will be because he is so thoroughly the embodiment of the vulgar and pushing side of American character."
"Then why in the world are you pushing him?"
"Oh, because Mrs. Ranger and Anna Frostwinch want him pushed. I don't know but they may believe in him. Mrs. Ranger does, of course, but the dear old soul knows no more about art than I do about Choctaw. As to the statues, I don't think it makes much difference, they are always laughed at, and I don't think anybody could make one in this age that wouldn't be found fault with."
"Nobody nowadays knows enough about sculpture to criticise it intelligently," Staggchase remarked, somewhat oracularly, "and the only safe thing left is to find fault."
"That is just about it, and so it may as well be this booby as anybody else that gets the commission. It isn't respectable for the town not to have statues, of course."
Mr. Staggchase moved toward the door.
"Well," he said, "I don't know who's in the fight, but I'll bet on your side. Good night. I hope virtue will be its own reward."
"Oh, it always is," retorted his wife. "I especially make it a point that it shall be."
HOW CHANCES MOCK. II Henry IV.; iii.—I.
A man often creates his own strongest temptations by dwelling upon possibilities of evil; and it is equally true that nothing else renders a man so likely to break moral laws as the consciousness of having broken them already. The experience of Arthur Fenton was in these days affording a melancholy illustration of both of these propositions. The humiliating inner consciousness of having violated all the principles of honor of his fealty to which he had been secretly proud begot in him an unreasonable and unreasoning impulse still further to transgress. When arraigned by his inner self for his betrayal of Hubbard, it was his instinct to defend himself by showing his superiority to all moral canons whatever. He felt a certain desperate inclination to trample all principles underfoot, as if by so doing he could destroy the standards by which he was being tried.
Fenton was not of a mental fibre sufficiently robust to make this impulse likely to result in any violent outbreak, and, indeed, but for circumstances it would doubtless have vapored itself away in words and vagrant fancies. He had once remarked, embodying a truth in one of his frequent whimsically perverse statements, that the worst thing which could be said of him was that he was incapable of a great crime, and only the constant pressure of an annoyance, such as the threats of Irons in regard to Ninitta, or the presence of an equally constant temptation, such as that to which he was now succumbing in allowing his relations with Mrs. Herman to become more and more intimate, would have brought him to any marked transgression.
In a nature such as that of Fenton there is, with the exception of vanity and the instinct of self-preservation, no trait stronger than curiosity. The artist was devoured by an eager, intellectual greed to know all things, to experience all sensations, to taste all savors of life. He made no distinction between good and bad; his zeal for knowledge was too keen to allow of his being deterred by the line ordinarily drawn between pain and pleasure. His affections, his passions, his morals were all subordinate to this burning curiosity, and only his instinct of self-preservation subtly making itself felt in the guise of expediency, and his vanity prettily disguised as taste, held the thirst for knowledge in check.
It was by far more the desire to learn whether he could bend Ninitta to his will than it was passion which carried Fenton forward in the dangerous path upon which he was now well advanced; and it was perhaps more than either a half-unconscious eagerness to taste a new experience. Even the double wickedness of betraying the wife of a friend and of enticing a woman to her fall had for Fenton, in his present mood, an unholy fascination. He was too self-analytical to deceive himself into a supposition that he was in love with Ninitta, and even his passion was so much under the dominion of his head that he could have blown it out like a rushlight, had he really desired to be done with it. He looked at himself with mingled approbation, amusement, and horror, as he might have regarded a favorite and skilful actor in a vicious role; and the man whose mind is to him merely an amphitheatre, where games are played for his amusement, is always dangerous.
As for Ninitta, the processes of her mind were probably quite as complex as those of his, although they appeared more simple, in virtue of their being more remote. She had, in the first place, a curious jealousy of her husband because of his passionate fondness for Nino, and a dull resentment at the secret conviction that the father had the gifts and powers which were sure to win more love than the child would bestow upon her. She could better bear the thought that the boy should die, than that he should live to love anybody more than he loved her.
It was also true that Grant Herman, large-hearted and generous as he was, did not know how to make his wife happy. He was patient and chivalrous and tender; but he was hardly able to go to her level, and as she could not come to his, the pair had little in common. He felt that somehow this must be his fault; he told himself that, as the larger nature, it should be his place to make concessions, to master the situation, and to secure Ninitta's happiness, whatever came to him. He had even come to feel so much tenderness toward the mother of his child, the woman in whose behalf he had made the great sacrifice of his life, that a pale but steadfast glow of affection shone always in his heart for his wife. But his patience, his delicacy, his steadfastness counted for little with Ninitta. She had been separated from him for long years of betrothal, during which he had developed and changed utterly. She had clung to her love and faith, but her love and faith were given to an ardent youth glowing with a passion of which it was hardly possible to rekindle the faint embers in the bosom of the man she married. Even Ninitta, little given to analysis, could not fail to recognize that her husband was a very different being from the lover she had known ten years before. One fervid blaze of the old love would have appealed more strongly to her peasant soul than all the patience and tender forbearance of years.
Indeed, it is doubtful whether Ninitta might not have been better and happier had Herman been less kind. Had he made a slave of her, she would have accepted her lot as uncomplainingly as the women of her race had acquiesced in such a fate for stolid generations. She could have understood that. As it was, she felt always the strain of being tried by standards which she did not and could not comprehend; the misery of being in a place for which she was unfitted and which she could not fill, and the fact that no definite demands were made upon her increased her trouble by the double stress of putting her upon her own responsibility, and of leaving her ignorant in what her failures lay.
There was, too, who knows what trace of heredity in the readiness with which Ninitta tacitly adopted the idea that infidelity to a husband was rather a matter of discretion and secrecy; whereas faithfulness to her lover had been a point of the most rigorous honor. And Ninitta found Arthur Fenton's silken sympathy so insinuating, so soothing; the tempter, merely from his marvellous adaptability and faultless tact, so satisfied her womanly craving, and fostered her vanity; she was so completely made to feel that she was understood; she was tempted with a cunning the more infernal because Fenton kept himself always up to the level of sincerity by never admitting to himself that he intended any evil, that it was small wonder that the time came when her ardent Italian nature was so kindled that she became involuntarily the tempter in her turn.
It was one of the singular features of Fenton's present attitude that even he, with all his clear-sightedness, failed to see the error of supposing that his departure from the paths of rectitude was nothing but a temporary episode. He fully expected to take up again his former attitude toward life when he would have scorned such a contemptible action as the betrayal of Hubbard, or the more trifling, but perhaps even more humiliating act of smuggling Snaffle into the club that he might win his money. He even had a certain vague feeling that if he had any viciousness to get through he must do it at once, lest the resumption of his former respectability should deprive him of the opportunity. He maintained before the world, indeed, a perfect propriety of deportment, partly from the force of habit and partly from the instinctive cunning which always tried to preserve for him the means of retreat; but so complete was his abandonment, for the time being, to the enjoyment of evil, that he was constantly assailed with the temptation to make some public demonstration of his state of feeling. He secretly longed to shock people with blasphemous or imprudent expressions; to outrage all honor by stealing his host's spoons when he dined out; his fancy rioted in whimsical evil of which, of course, he gave no outward sign.
He had a scene with Alfred Irons, one morning, at his studio. Irons came in with a look on his face which secretly enraged the artist, who was almost rude in the coldness of his greeting, although the caller only grinned at this evidence of his host's irritation.
"Well, Fenton," he said, with bluff abruptness, "I suppose it is time for us to square accounts, isn't it?"
"I was not aware that we had any accounts to square," the other returned, with his most icy manner.
Irons laughed, and looked about the studio.
"That's your new picture, I suppose" he observed, settling himself back in his chair, with the determined mien of a man who recognizes the fact that he has a battle to fight, but is perfectly willing to join the fray.
The significance of his air, as he nodded toward the big canvas on the easel, so plainly brought up the unfortunate hold which the Fatima had given Irons over the artist, that Fenton flushed in spite of himself.
"It is a picture," he returned; "and it is unfinished."
"Very well," he said. "We won't fence. I thought you might be interested to know that we've got our railroad business into first-rate shape; and there's no doubt that the Wachusett route will carry the day. I tell you we had a hot time in the Senate yesterday," he went on, warming with the excitement of his subject. "We made a pretty stiff fight in the Railroad Committee to get them to report 'not expedient' on the Feltonville petition. I tell you Staggchase fought like a bull tiger at the hearing, and those fellows must have put in a pot of money. But we beat 'em. Then the fight came to get the report accepted in the Senate. Everybody said that Tom Greenfield would settle the thing with a big broadside in favor of his own town; and I'll own that I was scared blue myself. But we haven't been cooking Tom Greenfield all this time for nothing. I don't mind telling you that your help in the matter was of the greatest value; and when Greenfield got up in the Senate yesterday, and put in his best licks for the Wachusett route, you'd have thought they'd been struck by a cyclone. We got a vote to sustain that report that buries the Feltonville project out of sight; and now there's no doubt that the Railroad Commissioners will give us our certificate without any more trouble."
During this rather long and not wholly coherent speech, Fenton sat with his eyes coldly fixed upon his visitor, without giving the slightest sign of interest.
"I am glad," he said, in a manner as distant as he could make it, "that your business is likely to succeed to your mind."
"Oh, it must succeed. The Commissioners only suspended operations till the Legislature disposed of the question of special legislation. Now they're all ready to give us what we want."
"And all this," Fenton said, "is of what interest to me?"
Irons flushed angrily.
"You were good enough," he returned, drawing his lips down savagely, "to give us a bit of information which we found of value. Very likely we might have hit upon it somewhere else, but that's no matter, as long as we did get it through you. We've no inclination to shirk our debt. Now what's your price?"
Fenton rose from his chair, with an impulsive movement; then he controlled himself and sat down again. He looked at his visitor with eyes of fire.
"I am not aware," he returned, "that I have ever been in the market, so that I have not been obliged to consider that question."
Alfred Irons was silent for a moment. He felt somewhat as if he had received a dash of ice-water in the face. He wrinkled up his narrow eyes and studied the man before him. He could not understand what the other was driving at. He was little likely to be able to follow the subtile changes of Fenton's imaginative mind, and he could at present see no explanation of the way in which his advances were met, except the theory that the artist was fencing to insure a larger reward for his treachery than might be given him if he accepted the first offer in silence.
Fenton, on his part, was so filled with rage that it was with difficulty that he restrained himself. The length to which his intimacy with Ninitta had now gone, however, made it absolutely necessary that he should avoid a quarrel in which her name might be brought up; and he had, moreover, put himself into the hands of Irons, by giving him the information in regard to the plans for Feltonville.
"Oh, well," Irons said at length, rising with the air of one who cannot waste his time puzzling over trifles; "have it your own way. It's only a matter of words."
He took out his pocket-book, and with deliberation turned over the papers it contained. He selected one, read it carefully, and then held it out to Fenton.
"Our manufacturing corporation is practically on its legs now," he said, "and the stock will be issued at once. That entitles you to ten shares. They will be issued at sixty, and ought to go to par by fall. Indeed, in a year's time, we'll make them worth double the buying price, or I am mistaken."
Fenton looked at the paper as if he were reading it, but its letters swam before his eyes. He needed money sorely, and had this gift come in a shape more readily convertible into cash, he might have found it impossible to resist it. As it was, he allowed himself to be fiercely angry. He was furious, but he was consciously so. He raised his eyes, flashing and distended, and fixed them upon the mean, hateful face before him. He paused an instant to let his gaze have its effect.
"And I understand," he said, with a slow, careful enunciation, "that in consideration of the service I have done you, you give me your promise never to mention the fact that you saw a lady in my studio."
"Certainly," Irons returned.
Fenton's look made him uncomfortable. The artist was reasserting the old superiority over him which the visitor had found so irritating, and it was Iron's instinct to meet this by an air of bluster.
"Very well," Arthur said. "We may then consider what you are pleased to call our account as closed."
He walked forward deliberately and laid the paper he held on the heap of glowing coals in the grate. It curled and shrivelled, and before Irons could even compress his thick lips to whistle, nothing remained of the document but a quivering film.
"Well," Irons commented, "you are a damned fool; but then that's your own business."
The artist bowed gravely.
"Naturally," he replied.
He stood waiting as if he expected his caller to go, and, despite himself, Irons felt that he was being bowed out of the studio. He took his leave awkwardly, feeling that he had somehow been beaten with trumps in his hand, and hating Fenton ten times more heartily than ever.
"The confounded snob!" he muttered under his breath, as he went down the stairs of Studio Building. "He puts on damned high-headed airs; but I'm not done with him yet."
And Fenton meanwhile stood looking at that thin fluttering film on the red coals with despair in his heart. He had taken the money which he imperatively needed to pay notes soon due, and invested in Princeton Platinum, with which the obliging Erastus Snaffle had supplied him out of pure generosity, if one could credit the seller's statements; and he had been secretly depending for relief upon this very gift from Irons which he had destroyed. His affairs were every day becoming more inextricably involved, and Fenton, it has already been said, with all his cleverness, had no skill as a financier.
"Well," he commented to himself, shrugging his shoulders, "that is the end of that; but I did make good play."
The satisfaction of having well acted his part, and of having got the better of Irons, did much toward restoring the artist's naturally buoyant spirits. He fell to reckoning his resources, and by dint of introducing into the account several pleasing but most improbable possibilities, he succeeded in building up between himself and ruin a fanciful barrier which for the moment satisfied him; and beyond the moment he refused to look.
VOLUBLE AND SHARP DISCOURSE. Comedy of Errors; ii.—I.
Mrs. Amanda Welsh Sampson had in the course of a varied, if not always dignified career, learned many things. There are people who seem compelled by circumstances to waste much of their mental energy in attending to the trivial and sordid details of life, and the widow often repined that she was one of these unfortunates. She secretly fretted not a little, for instance, over the fact that she was compelled to be gracious to servants, to butcher and baker and candlestick maker, from unmixed reasons of policy. To be gracious in the role of a grande dame would have pleased her, but she resented the necessity; and she avenged herself upon fate by gloating upon the stupidity of that power in wasting her energies in these petty things, when results so brilliant might have been attained by a more wise utilization of her cleverness.
This morning, for instance, when Mrs. Sampson chatted affably with the carpenter who had come to do an odd job in the china closet of her tiny dining-room, she really enjoyed the talk. She was one of those women who cannot help liking to chat with a man, and John Stanton was both good looking enough and intelligent enough to make her willing to exert herself for his entertainment. This did not, however, prevent her being inwardly indignant that she felt herself compelled to converse with Stanton because experience had taught her that a little amiability properly exhibited was sure to increase the work and lessen the bill at the same time. She did not forego the pleasure of pitying herself because she chanced to find the task imposed upon her an agreeable one. There are few people in this world who are sufficiently just and sufficiently sane to deny themselves the luxury of self pity merely because the occasion does not justify that feeling.
Stanton, with his coat off and his strong arms bare to the elbow, was planing down a shelf to make it fit into its place, and as he paused to shake the long creamy shavings out of his plane, he looked up to say apologetically,—
"I'm making an awful litter, ma'am, but I don't see how I can help it."
Mrs. Sampson laughed.
"Oh, it isn't of the least consequence," she answered. "If I was inclined to complain it would be because after keeping me waiting for six weeks for this work, you come just when I have company staying with me, and gentlemen coming to dine."
She had walked into the room with a not illy simulated air of having come with the intention of going out again immediately, and stood well posed, so that her fine figure came out in relief against a crimson Japanese screen.
"I haven't anything to do with that, ma'am," Stanton replied. "The boss makes out the orders, and we go where we are sent."
"Well," the widow said, smiling brilliantly, and moving across the room to the table where the dishes taken from the closet were piled, "it can't be helped, I suppose; but I hope you will let me get things cleared up in time for dinner."
"Oh, I'll surely get through by eleven or half past."
"And I don't have dinner till half past six."
The carpenter looked up questioningly. Then he went on with his work.
"I never can get used to city ways," he observed. "I don't see how folks can get along without having dinner in the middle of the day when it's dinner time."
Mrs. Sampson busied herself with the plates, arranging things on the sideboard ready for evening. Her guest, Miss Merrivale, was out driving with Fred Rangely, and the widow's resources in the way of servants were so limited that it was necessary that the hands of the mistress should attend to many of the details of the housekeeping. She enjoyed talking to this stalwart, vigorous fellow. She was alive to the last fibre of her being to the influence of masculine perfections, and Stanton was a splendidly built type of manhood. She utilized the moments and secured an excuse for lingering by going on with her work while the carpenter continued his, carrying out her theory of getting the most out of a laborer by personal supervision, and withal gratifying her intense and instinctive fondness for the presence of a magnificent man.
"You are not city bred, perhaps," she answered his last remark, for the sake of saying something.
"Oh, no, ma'am," John answered. "I was raised at Feltonville."
The widow became alert at once.
"Feltonville?" she repeated. "Why, I have a cousin living there, the Hon. Thomas Greenfield."
"Oh, Tom Greenfield. Everybody knows Tom Greenfield," John said, his face lighting up. "We call him 'Honest Tom' up our way. He's here in the Legislature now."
"Yes, I know he is. He's coming here to dinner to-night."
"Is he? He's an awful smart man, and he's a good one, too, as ever walked. He's awful interested in Orin's getting the job to make the new statue of America. Orin," he added in explanation, "Orin Stanton, he's the sculptor and he's my brother; my half-brother, that is. You've heard of him?"
"Oh, of course," she answered, warmly.
Mrs. Sampson knew little of Orin Stanton, but she did know that Alfred Irons was on the committee having in charge the commission for the new statue, and the fact that Mr. Greenfield had an interest, however indirect, in the same matter, was a hint too valuable not to be acted upon.
Despite the confidence with which he had spoken to Fenton, the railroad business was by no means settled. The Staggchase syndicate had rallied to raise objections to prevent the Railroad Commissioners from authorizing the other route. A hearing had been granted, and for it elaborate preparations were being made. The Irons syndicate were extremely anxious that Greenfield should speak at this hearing, but there had been so much feeling aroused at Feltonville by his action in the Senate that he was not inclined to do so; and Mrs. Sampson, who had already proved so successful in influencing her relative, had been requested to continue her efforts.
The widow had pondered deeply upon the tactics she should use, and it is to be noted that she set down the amount of the obligation incurred by Irons as the greater because she had really become in a way fond of Greenfield, and she was too clever not to understand the fact, to which the senator with singular perversity remained obstinately blind, that he could not but injure his political prestige by the course he was taking. She had aroused his combativeness by telling him that if his convictions forced him to vote against the Feltonville interest, people would say he was bought. She knew that now this was said, and that openly;—indeed, despite all her shrewdness and knowledge of human nature, she had moments when she wondered whether the charge might not be true, so incomprehensible did it seem that a man should throw away his own advantage. She had no sentiment strong enough to make her hesitate about going on to sacrifice Greenfield to her own interests, but she distinctly disliked the fact that Irons should also profit by the senator's loss.
All day the widow pondered deeply on the situation, and the result of the chance disclosure of John Stanton was that when her guests arrived she made an opportunity to take Irons aside for a moment's confidential talk.
The widow's dinner-party was a somewhat singular one to give in compliment to a young girl, there being no one of the guests near Miss Merrivale's own age except Fred Rangely. The widow's acquaintance among women whom she could ask to meet the New Yorker was limited, and having decided upon inviting Greenfield, Irons, and Rangely to dinner, the hostess sat gnawing her stylographic pen in despair a good half hour before she could decide upon a fourth guest. A woman she must have, and few women whom she wished to ask would come to her house even to call. When she now and then gathered at an afternoon tea a handful of people whose names she was proud to have reported in the society papers, she did it by securing a lion of literary or of theatrical fame, whose unwary feet she entangled in her cunningly laid snares before he knew anything about social conditions in Boston. There were many people, moreover, who would go to see a celebrity at a house like that of Mrs. Sampson much as they would have gone to the theatre, when they would have received neither the guest of honor nor the hostess, the latter of whom, to their thinking, stood for the time being much in the position of stage manager.